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Lady Wynwood's Spies, volume 6: Martyr

A Christian Historical Adventure set in Regency England with slow-burn romance and a supernatural twist
Part six in an epic-length serial novel

Lady Wynwood has discovered the gardening notebooks belonging to Bianca Jadis, the deceased mistress of the late Lord Wynwood and a former member of the treasonous group, the Citadel. However, the team is dismayed to discover that part of the notebooks has been written in some sort of code.

Mr. Sol Drydale has kept hidden the fact that the notebooks have been found because he is unable to fully trust his superior officers at the Ramparts, the secret branch of the Alien Office. After all, when one of his own was kidnapped, the men who should have assisted him had seemed more interested in obtaining the Root potion that gives men supernatural strength.

But then two Ramparts agents bring information about an opportunity to capture the poisoner Apothecary Jack, one of the members of the Citadel. Sol is ordered to integrate these newcomers into his group, then plan a daring raid upon Jack’s new laboratory.

When things take an unexpected turn, Sol is faced with a terrible choice. Will he disobey orders, or will he forfeit the life of someone he holds dear?

PLEASE NOTE: Like the novels published in Jane Austen’s time, this is a novel in multiple parts. Each volume has a completed story arc, but this is NOT a stand-alone novel and the story continues in volume 7.

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“Regardless, to return to the topic at hand, you cannot wear your muffatees,” Keriah said.

“I thought I had explained why I absolutely must wear my muffatees.”

Keriah held up her teacup. “I should love a biscuit, Miss Tolberton. Don’t mind if I do.” She extended her hand for an imaginary pastry. “Oh, I do beg your pardon, but it appears my wickedly sharp weapon has dropped into the chocolate tart. So rude of me.”

Phoebe scowled at her, but stripped off the muffatees and dropped them on the table with a soft thump.

--From Lady Wynwood's Spies, volume 6: Martyr


Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 6: Martyr

A Christian Regency Romantic Adventure serial novel

Camille Elliot

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:6
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Matthew 2:16-18
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9


Laura, Lady Wynwood, had never before been afraid of entering the attic, but she found herself frozen in the doorway, unable to force her body to move forward.

The storage space on the top floor of her townhouse was not bright by any means, for the small square window at the end only allowed in enough light to reveal the bulky shapes of the items stored within. The servants’ bedroom at the hunting lodge had been brighter during the day, and also far darker at night.

She found that it was the smell that rooted her feet to the floor. She had not realized that two attics could have the same smell of dust and the absence of people, of rooms overheated in the summer and cold and damp in the winter. Even though her maids cleaned the space fairly often, the attic seemed to exude a scent of disuse that was the same as the small room where she had spent so many frightening days and nights.

“Laura?” came the deep voice behind her.

Sol stood a few steps below her on the attic stairs. It was his voice alone that brought her back to her townhouse, not the room crowded with furniture at the hunting lodge.

Laura became aware that her heart was beating so fast and so hard in her chest that she could feel its thudding against her breastbone, and her breathing came fast and light. Her vision was darkening at the edges, and she put out a hand to rest against the doorframe to steady herself.

“This was a terrible idea,” Sol said. “Laura, let us return downstairs.”

“No, I am well,” she insisted, although even to her own ears, her voice was quavering and weak. She took a few more deep breaths, then said in a stronger voice, “And may I remind you, it was my idea to search the attic, so of course it would not be a terrible idea.”

Sol sighed so deeply that she could almost hear his eyeballs rolling in his head. “Yes, yes, all your ideas are splendid.”

“Never forget that, and we shall be friends for a very long time.” She took another deep breath to calm her nerves and then stepped into the storeroom.

For some reason, she clearly remembered the day when the current Lord Wynwood had visited her, bringing a wooden box of various items. He had been not only apologetic but also rather embarrassed. However, he had not acted in a cowardly fashion and shunted the task to a servant but had instead come to do the deed himself.

“I apologize that I must bring this to your attention again, but do you recall when your late husband’s attorney informed us of the piece of property that he purchased anonymously?” Lord Wynwood asked, his eyes shifting away from hers.

“Yes, I recall,” Laura said woodenly. The attorney had not stated as such, but it was apparent to Laura that it had been bought for the use of Wynwood’s mistress, Mrs. Jadis. However, it was unentailed, and upon succeeding to the title, Lord Wynwood had bought it from her, so she had not thought to hear of it again.

“I have just returned to town from looking over the property,” Lord Wynwood said. “It was a curious purchase, for I found that the house was nigh unusable due to fire damage. It was not the sort of domicile that was up to your husband’s standards and a place where he would be unlikely to spend even a single night. However, there was a greenhouse in good condition, and he apparently hired gardeners to care for the place.”

It was not uncommon for several of her friends to own a property outside of London with a greenhouse where they could grow flowers and fruits that would be delivered to them out of season. However, Laura had not seen any such things, so she could only assume that the greenhouse offerings had gone to Wynwood’s mistress. She tried to ignore the pang that went through her at the thought, but it was only a small one, for she had long since ceased to love him, and day by day had been struggling not to give in to her hatred and utterly despise him.

“You needn’t be concerned for my sensibilities, my lord,” she said. “Of all the people in the world, I was most aware that my husband’s priorities were not centered upon me.”

Her blunt speaking seemed to mortify him even more, as red crept up his neck and colored his ears a delicate pink. “I would never wish to bring such distasteful matters to your attention,” he said, still not quite meeting her eyes, “but he left a few items within the greenhouse. Upon his death, the gardeners were let go, and so all the plants were quite withered, but whilst cleaning, we found a few articles.” He indicated the wooden box, which her servant had placed on the floor just inside the drawing room door. He finally raised his eyes to hers, his gaze steadfast and kind. “Simply say the word, and I shall remove the box from this house and burn the contents. But I could not bring myself to destroy them without first consulting with you.”

“I am grateful for your kindness, but the items will not cause me distress. I will take them,” she said. At the time, she didn’t know why she had made that decision. It had been mere months after the funeral, but she had already gone through the house in an attempt to scrub away the terrible memories. Many things had been discarded, and she would have thought that she would instruct him to take the box away, its contents unseen, but something induced her to keep it.

She thanked him for his consideration and eased his embarrassment with some of her cook’s rich spice cake, and he left the house with a great deal less discomfort than when he had entered it.

Laura had looked through the box, but perhaps Lord Wynwood had removed any obviously feminine items, for all that remained were innocuous things. However, she had known that several things did not belong to her husband—a silver snuff box, a tin of ginger sweetmeats, some handkerchiefs smaller and finer than he typically used—and after a cursory glance, she had given the box to Aya. “Please take this to the attic,” she said in a strained voice. “I shall look through this at another time.”

That time had finally come.

Since that day, Laura had renovated the attic space, reducing the size of the storeroom and increasing the sizes of several servants’ rooms. The box could be anywhere.

Laura and Sol began searching in the tightly packed space. The servants had offered to help, but Laura had refused them. Somehow, it felt as though she alone could do this task, an act that would be like brushing away a particularly dusty cobweb from the corner of her heart.

She also did not want any of her servants to be with her when she found the box, for she was not certain how she would react. They had already seen her at her worst, but she feared that in finding the box, she would be at her weakest.

“There are so many things,” Sol commented as he lifted the sheet covering a set of hideous family portraits. “I believe that if your servants tried to help us, we would not be able to fit more than one or two people more in here.”

“Unless I granted the twins permission to scramble over the piles of furniture,” Laura said. “They offered to do so.”

“The scamps,” he said, although with affection.

The attic was warm even though it was barely an hour past dawn. But the heat of the kitchen and the spring sunlight beating down on the roof made the space almost too warm for the green shawl she wore. Nonetheless, she kept the soft lace wrapped close around her as she gingerly moved amidst paintings and tables and chairs.

Her body was still quite sore from her ordeal and her bones felt strangely brittle, but she tried to move as smoothly as normal so as not to alarm Sol. He had not wished for her to cut short her stay at Glencowe Castle in order to return to London, but the thought of Bianca’s notebooks had literally haunted her dreams—she saw Jack’s leering face, the blood around the knife thrust into Dr. Heddetch’s chest, Maxham’s pale eyes examining her carefully. She somehow felt that if she could find the notebooks, she could banish those images.

Sol had reluctantly agreed, but only because he knew that the notebooks were important to the Citadel and therefore they would be important to the Ramparts. And so he also wanted to do his duty and look for them, despite the shadow of distrust that he felt for them at the moment.

They searched for more than an hour before finally Sol called out to her, “Laura, I think perhaps I have found it.”

They had already looked within several wooden boxes, but none of them had been the one Lord Wynwood brought from the greenhouse. She approached Sol and held her lamp over the contents.

It was the smell that struck her first, a scent like rotting leaves, and yet with the faint sweet thread of dried flower petals. Then she saw the tin of ginger sweetmeats and knew that they had found it.

“This is the box,” Laura said, although her voice was dull rather than jubilant.

Sol seemed to understand what she might be feeling. He silently reached over to take her hand and squeezed it gently.

He handed her his lamp, and then he carried the box from the storeroom. She trailed behind him all the way down to the drawing room, blowing out the lamps and opening the door for him. When he laid the box on the carpet, she wearily sat on the sofa next to it.

Her knees were shaking, and she was not certain if it was because her body was still weak from the days of her captivity or because she was apprehensive about the contents of the box.

Sol began taking items and placing them on the low table in front of the sofa. Laura gently touched each one but did not pick them up.

Strangely, even the items that belonged to her late husband, such as the men’s driving gloves and the mold-speckled cravat, did not remind her of Wynwood at all. The strangeness that had struck her on the day that she first looked through the contents of the box returned to her, a familiar feeling that she recalled perhaps because of the dried flowers smell.

She had thought she would feel more pain upon seeing Bianca’s things, but now knowing that she had belonged to the Citadel, that she had had some other motivation and purpose in taking Wynwood as her lover, Laura found that she could view the items with a more coldly dispassionate eye than she had before.

With a cry, Sol removed three leatherbound notebooks that had been stored at the bottom. He laid two of them on the table and began flipping through one.

Laura also picked up a notebook. The leather was old and cracked, and the pages felt thick and springy. Upon opening it, she realized that the paper was wavy, perhaps from the humidity in the greenhouse.

Bianca’s writing was feminine, but not elegant—it looked like chicken scratchings with a few more flourishes. There were several gardening terms which Laura did not quite understand, and she skimmed through the first few pages quickly. Then her sight was assaulted by a wall of numbers.

She blinked, uncertain if the blows to her head had affected her vision, but the numbers remained in front of her eyes. Numerals ranging from single digits to triple digits, in seemingly random order. They were written in rows, but they did not line up in columns. Sometimes a number was underlined, and occasionally there was a checkmark in the margin next to a number.

Laura continued turning pages, but there were only more numbers. She finally reached a page that held what looked like a chemical recipe, which she understood only slightly more than the numbers.

“Sol …” she said.

“I know.” He turned the notebook he was holding so that the pages faced her, and again, there were only numbers.

They had thought that these notebooks would reveal all of Bianca’s secrets. Instead, it felt as if the woman herself was laughing in derision at them.

She had been a woman holding many confidences. They had known that, for she had hidden so many of her most important articles with Wynwood. Of course she would endeavor to hide her most precious information within these pages so that they could not be discerned.

Bianca had written in her notebooks in code, and they would need to solve it.

Chapter One

Miss Phoebe Sauber caught herself standing in her room and considering her choice of weapon.

She slapped the side of her head. “You’re simply going to visit Miss Tolberton. You are not going to fight hostile servants, hired kidnappers, or nefarious men working for Apothecary Jack. You will not be attacked by anyone with supernatural strength. Stop acting as though you expect a knife to come at you around every corner.”

It was true that she had had a harrowing few weeks while her father tried to marry her off to a murderer, and then her Aunt Laura was kidnapped. Really, she should be relieved she wasn’t drooling and babbling nonsense.

Things were finally back to normal. She was going on a perfectly normal social call, like any other normal young lady of quality.

However, when she finally walked out of her bedroom, she discovered that she had pulled on her lace muffatees, which each hid a slim blade against her forearm. Really, they were quite beautifully made. It wouldn’t look too odd to wear them on a visit to Miss Tolberton.

Their new residence was much smaller than Aunt Laura’s townhouse, so Phoebe had gone only a few steps before her aunt’s lady’s maid, Aya, came bustling up the stairs and nearly collided with her.

“Oh! I beg your pardon, Miss Phoebe. Did you not need my help to dress after all?”

“Jane helped me into my dress, and then I sent her back to help everyone else unpack and organize the household.”

It had taken a great deal of organization on the part of Mrs. Rook, the housekeeper, and Graham, the butler, to move Aunt Laura’s household to Mrs. Haudenby’s townhouse on Portman Street. Aunt Laura had been unwilling to fully trust the Ramparts after Mr. Uppleby’s and Mr. Antingham’s agents had acted contentiously against the team, and Uncle Sol said that she would need to be careful since there was no proof that Mr. Ackett had truly been coerced into helping with her kidnapping. So Aunt Laura had personally arranged for her own new, unknown location without involving the clandestine Alien Office department.

Phoebe thought she would try to find somewhere to let outside of London, but instead, her aunt wrote to her good friend Mrs. Haudenby, who had chosen to remain in her country house for the Season because her rheumatism had been bad a few months earlier. Mrs. Haudenby was only too willing to allow Aunt Laura to borrow her home, sending the house key. Aunt Laura’s house was now completely shut up and empty, as though she had gone on a trip.

“Gracious, everything is at sixes and sevens,” said a voice from behind Aya, and Miss Keriah Gardinier popped out from the stairs. Phoebe hadn’t even heard the knocker, but of course Graham wouldn’t hesitate to allow her best friend entry into the house. “You look as though you are going out,” Keriah added.

“I must visit Miss Tolberton today,” Phoebe said. “She is at home this afternoon and I wanted to speak to her before she tried to visit me at Aunt Laura’s house and saw it closed up. If she became alarmed, she might ask around about it, and I don’t wish to foster gossip about why Lady Wynwood has left town before the end of the Season.”

“Yes, if there will be gossip, it would be better to control the story being told,” Keriah said.

“I thought you were at Stapytton House.” Earlier this week, Sir Derrick had surprised Keriah with a few vials of the Root that had been taken from Jack’s laboratory by the Ramparts. It had been almost a week since the raid, and the Root had already begun to deteriorate, but Keriah had said she would do her best.

Uncle Sol explained that Sir Derrick had been aware that the potion would not remain fresh for long, but he had been forced to wait a couple days after the raid until Mr. Antingham found a chemist who met with his approval. The scientist was given the Root first, but then he had been caught trying to sneak a few vials home with him. Only then was Sir Derrick free to give the Root to Keriah, now that Mr. Antingham’s man had shown himself to be unworthy of trust.

In learning more about the Ramparts, Phoebe was now aware of the reason why Sir Derrick could not simply have done as he liked and given the Root to Keriah directly after the raid. While he was the leader of the department, the authority of men such as Mr. Antingham must also be respected.

Keriah shook her head. “The samples were too old. They had hopelessly congealed and started to rot. I ran as many tests as I could, but learned nothing of use. So I came today to continue copying the third notebook.”

Aunt Laura had remained at Glencowe Castle only a few days before returning to London, spurred by her conversation with her kidnapper, Maxham. She had returned briefly to her townhouse while guarded by Uncle Sol and Mr. Coulton-Jones, but it had been the day after Uncle Sol had arranged for Mr. Poe’s arrest, so Phoebe’s father’s servants and hired men who had watched the place were no longer there.

It had all been very anticlimactic. Aunt Laura and Uncle Sol marched up to the attic, searched for an hour, and found the item they sought—a wooden crate packed with the things that the current Lord Wynwood had found in a greenhouse on an estate that Uncle Wynwood had purchased.

It had been a random assortment of items that likely belonged to either Uncle Wynwood or his mistress, Mrs. Bianca Jadis—a fine pair of men’s driving gloves, a tarnished silver snuff box, a tin of stale ginger sweetmeats as hard as rocks, a moldy cravat, some handkerchiefs, three teacups of differing designs, and a tin of tea. Also in the box was a ring of keys—the current Lord Wynwood had tried them on the doors of the greenhouse, but they hadn’t fit any lock in the building, and the burned house on the property had no doors remaining with undamaged locks. And lastly were three leather-bound notebooks filled with a woman’s handwriting.

At first glance, the legible portions appeared to mostly consist of gardening notes on growing the Goldensuit. It had been Keriah’s idea to make copies since they were water-damaged and the leather covers falling apart, but they soon discovered that the notebooks were far more than gardening notes.

“Have you already completed the other two?” Phoebe asked. “That was expedient of you.”

“My eyes are crossing looking at all those numbers.”

“I shall need to fetch the notebook for you.” Uncle Sol had separated all three notebooks with three different people, and each book was to be hidden. Phoebe had been given the third book, which she’d locked away in her jewelry box.

Keriah was aware that finding the notebook was not as simple an affair as pulling it off of a shelf. “Why don’t you get it while I visit with Lady Wynwood?” Keriah started down the hallway, but Aya cleared her throat.

“I beg your pardon, Miss Keriah, but my lady is, er … napping.”

It was painfully obvious that Aya was uncomfortable about lying to them about Aunt Laura. However, after a brief moment of surprise, Keriah simply smiled. “Thank you for informing me, Aya. She likely still needs her rest.”

Aya bobbed a curtsy. “Where should you like to work, Miss Keriah? I’ll bring you some tea.”

“The morning room on the ground floor would be best,” Phoebe said. “It has the most light, and the writing desk is in one of the boxes there. We shall be down directly.” She entered her room, followed by Keriah.

After hurling herself indelicately upon the bed, Keriah’s smile faded. “How is Lady Wynwood?”

“I’m worried about her,” Phoebe said in a low voice since her aunt’s bedroom was next door. “She’s not quite the same.”

“I would be very much surprised if she were,” Keriah said.

“Of course I expected her to be shaken by what happened, but there is something else.” Phoebe paused in rummaging through an unpacked bag. “It feels as though something inside of Aunt Laura was broken by her ordeal and she is mourning the loss.”

“When we rescued her, I saw that she had terrible injuries,” Keriah said, sotto voce, “but it was also apparent that many of them were not of the body.”

Phoebe found the reticule where she’d stowed the key to her jewelry box. “I had hoped that she might feel more secure after moving into this townhouse, but she seems more melancholy.”

“Perhaps she is afraid of being kidnapped again.”

“She does not seem to be afraid. She seems to be … despairing. She’s been spending more time with me, as if appreciating even more the fact that we are together.”

“I find that all perfectly understandable. Why would you be unsettled by it?”

“I can tell that she is burdened by something, but cannot share it with anyone and must bear it alone.” Her aunt’s heaviness of heart had been making Phoebe feel weighted with cares, also. “I don’t know what to do aside from sitting with her and trying to be cheerful.”

“It has only been a little over a week since she was rescued,” Keriah said. “She probably needs more time for the horror of what happened to fade.”

“Yes, I try to tell myself that, but I still can’t help feeling that there is something beyond that.” Phoebe sighed. “But there is nothing I can do about that.”

“Quite so.”

Phoebe shook out her reticule and the key dropped into her hand. “I have hidden it in the morning room.”

They headed downstairs. In the morning room, several boxes had been left in the corners while the servants were attempting to unpack still others.

Phoebe pointed toward a box. “The writing desk is in that one.” While Keriah moved to unpack the writing desk, she was about to fetch her jewelry box when Aya appeared with a tea tray, which she set on the table before leaving.

Keriah squeezed her eyes shut and waved a hand at the dust that bloomed up from a box she’d opened. “When I stepped down from the carriage, there was a woman on the sidewalk who had no hesitation in introducing herself as Mrs. Bedford and asking if I was her new neighbor.”

“Oh? Aunt Laura has not met any of the neighbors, but it has only been two days.”

“She seemed a gossipy sort,” Keriah said. “I explained that I was visiting a distant aunt in mourning who has let the house. However, from now on, rather than being dropped off in front of the house, I think I shall ask Mr. Havner to drive the carriage to the mews at the back so that I may enter the house through there.”

“That is probably wise since you will not mind going through the scullery—ah! Here it is.” Phoebe removed her jewelry box from where she’d stowed it under a stack of sheets. The rest of the box was filled with Phoebe’s books, but because of the sheets at the top, the box had not been taken to her bedroom.

She laid the box on the table and unlocked it, removing the notebook within. As she passed it to Keriah, a slim rectangle of folded paper dropped from the back pages.

“Oh! You missed one.” Keriah bent to retrieve the packet of seeds and hand it to her.

At the back of each notebook had been several packets of Goldensuit seeds, which Uncle Sol had given to Phoebe. Each packet was meticulously labeled, and some of them matched notations in the notebook of hybrid Goldensuit plants that Bianca had created, although there were several seeds not mentioned. Phoebe guessed that Bianca had written about those particular hybrids on the coded pages. The notes that she could read were quite methodical, listing the potency of the seeds, pollen, roots, and leaves of the hybrid plants as compared to the original Goldensuit plant. Phoebe could only surmise that the coded notes were just as detailed.

“Have you planted any of these?” Keriah asked.

“I planted some of the original Goldensuit plant seeds, but I decided to wait before planting any of the other hybrids until I can read more about them in the notebooks and decide which ones to attempt to grow,” Phoebe said.

“It may take a longer time to copy this notebook.” Keriah sighed as she flipped through the third one, which was in the best condition. “This one is almost entirely in that number cipher like the other two.”

“It is especially frustrating because some pages are titled in English, but the rest is unintelligible.” The last quarter of the first, oldest notebook had been in code, while the numbers filled nearly half of the second notebook.

“We know that Bianca didn’t trust the rest of the Citadel or she wouldn’t have hidden so many of her possessions with Lord Wynwood, so it shouldn’t surprise me that she would obscure the notes themselves within her notebooks.” Keriah poured herself some tea from the teapot that Aya had left for her.

Phoebe fought a wave of longing as she looked at the notebook on the table in the morning room. “I would rather stay home and help you copy this. We don’t know when Uncle Sol will be required to deliver the notebooks to the Ramparts, and it would be best to create a copy for ourselves as soon as possible.”

Keriah’s eyes narrowed as she regarded her, and she reached out to possessively pull the notebook closer to her. “The true reason is that you want to solve the cipher. You’re simply stubborn and want to prove you’re smarter than Bianca.”

Phoebe tried to look offended, but she couldn’t deny it. “The notebooks have been extremely useful. Of course I want to read them in their entirety.” Unfortunately, even to herself, she sounded as though she were simply making excuses. “I was able to use the legible notes in that first notebook to improve the fertilizer of the original Goldensuit plants that I had, and they’re already looking much better. They haven’t flowered yet, but there are two buds.”

“I thought you had buds a couple weeks ago?”

“They died before flowering. Jack’s hybrid plants grow like weeds, but the original Goldensuit has been rather finicky.”

“I hope you may grow more soon. I have been searching for a way to wean Mr. Coulton-Jones from the hybrid pollen.”

“Maybe one of Bianca’s hybrids might do so,” Phoebe said. “Maxham mentioned that it supposedly healed a child from a coma, and he and Jack certainly wanted the notebooks quite desperately.”

“They certainly did a great many terrible things to try to acquire them. It makes me anxious to wonder what other schemes they might have planned.” Keriah didn’t meet Phoebe’s eye as she changed the topic. “Did you hear about Mr. Ackett?”

Phoebe sobered. “Yes. I was going to tell you.”

“Mr. Coulton-Jones told me yesterday,” Keriah said in a low voice.

After Aunt Laura returned to town, Uncle Sol had called upon Mr. Ackett’s family, who would naturally have been worried by then that their son was missing. However, he discovered that Mr. Ackett had supposedly left a note saying that he was visiting with friends in Scotland.

Uncle Sol hadn’t been able to refute the message, but he guessed that either Maxham or Jack had left the note to prevent the family from searching for Mr. Ackett for a little while. Phoebe realized that it would enable the Citadel to hide the evidence of their crime so that no one would know what had truly happened.

“He could be alive, if he was given the Root,” Keriah whispered. She sounded as though she was almost fearful of voicing the hope.

“He could be,” Phoebe said carefully. “But how likely would that be?”

“Not very likely.” Keriah bit her lip.

Aya suddenly entered the room. “Miss Phoebe, Mr. Havner has pulled the carriage up to the front door.”

“Thank you, Aya.” Phoebe sighed as the maid left the room again. “I should leave.”

“Are you wearing those during your visit to Miss Tolberton?” Keriah pointed a finger at the muffatees, one eyebrow raised.

“Mr. Armstrong has often given us the injunction to always have weapons stashed upon our person somewhere, even if we do not anticipate they will be needed,” Phoebe said primly.

Keriah gave her a flat look and said nothing.

Sir Derrick had ordered the two of them to begin the process required for them to become full agents for the Ramparts. So far, it was rather boring instruction on the rules and regulations they were expected to follow, as well as the hierarchy of authority within the department. But they were also training more in hand-to-hand fighting with Mr. Armstrong, who had enthusiastically flexed his impressive muscles (for some odd reason they couldn’t understand) and then increased the difficulty of their practice.

“Only last week, my father was sending his servants and hired men to try to kidnap me,” Phoebe said defensively.

“But he stopped once Mr. Poe was arrested,” Keriah said. “There are no longer strange and smelly men watching Lady Wynwood’s townhouse and my sister’s house. It will look odd for you to wear muffatees for a house call.”

“And if I should somehow encounter danger? Jack and Maxham are likely trying to find Aunt Laura again, and they would know that I am living with her. Maxham did not know my name when I first encountered him at Mr. Farrimond’s party, but he has surely realized that I was the woman who fooled him. He would recognize me if he happened to see me.”

“Would he truly happen upon you by chance in the middle of Mayfair when Mr. Coulton-Jones and Mr. Drydale have been doing their best to find him and Jack?”

“Mr. Coulton-Jones and Uncle Sol have also needed to spend time searching for Ward.” They were trying to uncover anything they could find about the man named Ward, whom Jack had mentioned and who had written the letter to Dr. Heddetch. When discreetly inquiring through the more obvious channels, they had found that no doctor by that name was known. However, it was a common surname and they were limited in their search methods since they did not wish to draw attention to themselves. The Citadel had proven to be dangerous when they were being investigated, as Mr. Coulton-Jones’s brother had discovered.

“I do wish Mr. Rosmont and Isabella were in town to help them,” Keriah said. It was taking the team considerably longer to dig out information in the Long Glades because Isabella and Mr. Rosmont had been sent out of town on the trail of a prostitute Jack and Maxham had hired for some secretive purpose. “I hope the two of them are safe.”

“Uncle Sol said he assigned two other trusted agents to help them, so I am certain they will succeed in their mission and be back with us in a few weeks. And perhaps with more information about the Citadel and their plans.”

“Regardless, to return to the topic at hand, you cannot wear your muffatees,” Keriah said.

“I thought I had explained why I absolutely must wear my muffatees.”

Keriah held up her teacup. “I should love a biscuit, Miss Tolberton. Don’t mind if I do.” She extended her hand for an imaginary pastry. “Oh, I do beg your pardon, but it appears my wickedly sharp weapon has dropped into the chocolate tart. So rude of me.”

Phoebe scowled at her, but stripped off the muffatees and dropped them on the table with a soft thump.

“After all, I know you stashed a knife in your reticule.” Keriah calmly opened the writing desk and removed the ink pot. “The muffatees were excessive indulgence.”

Phoebe was reluctant to admit that Keriah was perhaps correct. “Would you like to come with me?”

“I accompanied you that one time to Miss Tolberton’s house and was heartily bored when the two of you began debating the best types of manure for compost.” She shuddered. “I don’t know how any two people can discuss excrement for a full twenty minutes. Enjoy your visit.”

Chapter Two

Phoebe had sent a note to Miss Tolberton the day before to inquire if she could visit her today, so when she knocked on the front door, the butler answered and immediately ushered her inside, collecting her pelisse and bonnet.

“Miss Tolberton informed me that you would be visiting today, miss,” he said in his impressively ponderous tones. “If you would allow me to show you to the drawing room?”

They had reached the drawing room doorway when there was a sudden thump from the floor above, followed by the crash of something fragile breaking.

She instantly became alert. Had Jack or Maxham somehow found her? How could that be?

However, she did not outwardly react except to pause and look toward the stairs.

The light patter of running footsteps, followed by a heavier tread, but moving just as quickly. Then Miss Tolberton appeared on the stairs, followed a step behind by a man’s pair of boots and breeches.

The man grabbed Emilia’s wrist, stopping her so that Phoebe could just barely see her head where it was blocked by the first floor ceiling. The grip must have been cruel, for the young woman winced and twisted her body.

“Release me!” Emilia hissed.

“I will have your promise to dance with Mr. Adderly at the Church-Pratton ball next week.” The voice belonged to Mr. Tolberton.

“If I gave it, I would be the only female to dance with Mr. Adderly since no woman of good breeding will associate with him!”

“Don’t be a ninnyhammer. Sir Nigel is as rich as Croesus and his son will inherit all of it. You couldn’t do better at your age.”

Emilia drew herself up, her jaw set in mulish lines. “You have repeatedly assured me that you do not mind my spinsterhood, that you enjoyed my help hosting your political parties and gatherings.”

He gave a short bark of humorless laughter. “Be reasonable, gel. You are expected to marry advantageously.”

“I would not be marrying Sir Nigel, I would be marrying his insufferable son. Only penniless fortune hunters of low birth would even consider him as a prospective husband.”

Phoebe had forgotten about the butler, standing to one side of her, but he made a nervous movement that caught Emilia’s attention. She turned toward them, and she stood low enough on the stairs that she caught Phoebe’s eye.

Mr. Tolberton’s body also turned toward them, and although he likely only saw the butler’s legs and Phoebe’s gown, his neck turned red. He released his daughter and headed back up the stairs.

Emilia approached, and her gaze flitted away from Phoebe. “I do apologize that you witnessed that, Miss Sauber.” However, she looked remarkably cool. In a strange way, it was as though she were simply playing the part of a woman delicately embarrassed.

But the next moment, Phoebe doubted what she’d seen. Surely Emilia would be concerned that her turbulent relationship with her father was so prominently on display in front of an acquaintance, even though Phoebe was a friend?

The butler seemed relieved to be able to bow and leave them in the drawing room, closing the doors behind them.

Emilia immediately took Phoebe’s hand and drew her down upon the sofa in front of the fireplace. “I am sorry to have discomposed you, but your presence here is such a comfort to me.”

“If I can ease your mind and heart in any way, of course I am at your disposal, but I hope my visit will not increase the strife with your father.”

“Hardly, for it is all his fault,” she scoffed, then seemed to remember herself and looked down at her lap, adopting a more demure expression. “He has not confessed anything to me, but I saw a stack of unpaid bills in his desk drawer. I have also heard rumors at parties—from guests who were not aware I was able to overhear them—that he has been seen gambling very deep at some disreputable gaming hells.” She glanced up at Phoebe, her eyes wide and touched with unshed tears, like the sky after the rain. “I think he is in debt.”

Phoebe squeezed her hand. “That would explain why he wishes you to form an attachment to Mr. Adderly.” It was widely known among the ton that Sir Nigel’s son liked to try to steal kisses from reluctant young women and to steal a great deal more from any pretty maids he happened upon.

“Indeed, Mr. Adderly seems nearly as reluctant as I am.” Emilia’s voice grew louder as she voiced her complaints. “He is likely being forced into my company by his parents, who have been despairing of a match for him since no reputable woman of the ton will accept him. The only families interested in pairing him with their young ladies are destitute and desperate …” She sighed. “… which I suppose my father is, now.”

“You are not the only destitute and desperate young lady. Perhaps he will do you the favor of choosing another woman to marry.”

“In one or two past Seasons, perhaps he would have obliged me. But this Season, few fortune-hunting families have as old and respectable a name as the Tolbertons, which puts me at the top of the Adderlys’ list.”

Helpless, Phoebe couldn’t think of a response and merely squeezed her hand again. Emilia had helped her a great deal with the affair with Mr. Poe, and yet there was nothing she could do for her.

They sat in silence for several minutes, then a knock at the door heralded a maid bearing a tea tray. After she left, Phoebe poured the tea for them both, adding an extra lump of sugar to Emilia’s cup.

Seeing the gesture, Emilia gave a small smile that drew out her dimples. After a few sips of the hot, sweet tea, she took a deep breath and seemed to have calmed down somewhat. “You mustn’t worry so, Phoebe,” she said. “I assure you that my father will not do anything to me.” There was a strange, razor-sharp intensity in her eyes that was almost like a threat.

“Are you certain?”

“Of course. I know my father, and this is not the first disagreement we have had of this sort. If I resist his wishes a little longer, eventually he will stop attempting to force me into Mr. Adderly’s company.”

Her voice had the confidence of a rock, and she didn’t appear to be saying these things solely to reassure Phoebe.

“I believe you,” Phoebe said. “I believe in you.”

Emilia shifted closer to her on the sofa. “I am more worried about you. What happened with Mr. Poe? I have not met the Saubers at any of the entertainments I have attended recently.”

“I thank you with all my heart for the information you gave to me. Mr. Poe was arrested, but discreetly, and I believe my father will exert all his influence to ensure that his trial and punishment is carried out quietly.”

Indeed, Phoebe herself didn’t know how Uncle Sol had accomplished the deed with so much speed and efficiency. Agents from the Ramparts visited Mr. Sauber and distracted him and Mr. Poe in discussion while another man searched his bedroom. The poison used in the murder and Mr. Marlowe’s distinctive cravat pin were both discovered there.

According to Uncle Sol, Phoebe’s father had naturally been appalled. To the end, Mr. Poe insisted that it was impossible for him to be guilty of the murder. The agents then arrested Mr. Poe, but in such a way that the neighbors would not have known it was happening. The Ramparts had even ensured that the Saubers’ servants were not in the drawing room when they spoke to Mr. Poe, nor when they searched his room, but the servants were so lazy that it had not been very difficult.

Phoebe didn’t know what her father had told the servants about Mr. Poe’s sudden departure in order to prevent them from gossiping about the incident to others, but Uncle Sol mentioned that nothing was being whispered in society about Mr. Sauber. Her father did not truly have enough influence to be able to keep the incident from the knowledge of his peers, but Uncle Sol had reassured Phoebe that the Ramparts would do so and arrange for Mr. Poe to be transported quietly so that her father’s and Phoebe’s reputations would not be tainted by the association.

“Thus far, my father has not pursued another marriage for me,” Phoebe said.

“But for how long? I am concerned that he will find another man to whom he will marry you off.”

“It is possible, but I think it unlikely before the end of the Season. He might try, but he will give up quickly. My father is much like his servants—he is quite lazy when it comes to things that don’t immediately benefit him.”

Emilia gave her a faintly exasperated look. “His wayward daughter has smeared his reputation by abandoning him in his hour of need before his wedding—those are Mrs. Sauber’s words, I assure you—and he may decide it is to his benefit to remove you from London by any means necessary.” Miss Tolberton had been a means for Phoebe to escape those very same extreme measures.

“In actuality, I have cost my father a great deal of money from the men he hired to try to kidnap me,” Phoebe said. “So I am of no financial value to him unless he can arrange a brilliant match, which is highly unlikely since he hasn’t the connections and couldn’t do so during the five Seasons I have had.”

A mischievous smile curled the edges of Emilia’s lips. “Now that I think of it, I seem to recall stories of your betrothal in our third Season, was it not? Whatever happened with that?”

“My father almost arranged a marriage for me with a man in his seventies—and at the time, I was still sufficiently obedient that I did not object—but the prospective groom died in his sleep before the contract could be signed.”

“How dreadful!”

“For him and for my father, perhaps,” Phoebe said heartlessly. “It has produced the fortuitous benefit of scaring off any other potential octogenarians who might want a young wife, for it appears a betrothal to me would hasten their early demise.”

“Oh, Miss Sauber!” Emilia tried to inject horror in her tone, but she was giggling too much.

“So you see, it is very likely that he will leave me alone.” In truth, her father probably wanted to kidnap her and ship her off to Bath, but for the moment, he wished for his actions to be bland and innocuous so as not to bring attention to himself. He would not be attempting anything for a while.

“I am so relieved to hear that.” Emilia smiled. “I would be terribly disappointed if I could not have these comfortable cozes with you.”

Phoebe winced. “I am afraid that I came today to say farewell for the Season. Aunt Laura is leaving town to stay with a friend in the country, and of course I shall be accompanying her.”

For a moment, Emilia looked as distraught as if she’d been told her house had burned down to the ground, but then she pressed her lips together and looked in her lap for a moment, exerting more control over her features. When she looked up, she still had remnants of her surprise in her eyes. “I am shocked to hear that Lady Wynwood is leaving so soon. Is it because of your father?”

“That is part of the reason, but also, my aunt had already made arrangements to visit with her friend after the Season. She is merely leaving a few weeks early.”

“With whom will she be staying?”

Phoebe smoothly gave a false name. “Mrs. Hammond. She went to school with my aunt. Are you familiar with the family?”

“Hammond … No, I am afraid not. Where does she live? Perhaps I may visit you after we leave London?”

“Oh … she lives up north, but I am afraid I do not know exactly where.”

“Then you must write to me to tell me once you are settled.” Emilia heaved a great sigh. “Town will be sadly flat once you are gone. I shall be so lonely. Do say you will write to me quite often.”

“Of course.” Phoebe didn’t wish to lie to her, but she could hardly say, In truth, I will be living only a few blocks away but unable to contact anyone for fear of a treasonous clandestine group that wishes to kill my aunt.

“Well then, I hope you may stay a little while longer today since we shall not be able to see each other for a while?” Emilia asked.

“I should love to.”

Phoebe had barely finished replying before Emilia began piling gingerbread cakes and almond fritters onto a plate for Phoebe. “I am so pleased. I wanted to ask if you read a recent botanical journal that mentioned a plant recently discovered called the Malaysian basil …”

They chatted about gardening and botany for so long that Emilia insisted upon calling for more tea and pastries. Phoebe was forced to suppress a smile at a chocolate tart that appeared, glad now that Keriah had shamed her into not wearing any blades that might fall into it.

Emilia was almost tragically sad when Phoebe at last needed to leave. She escorted her to the front door and waited while she donned her outerwear, which had been fetched by the butler.

Heaving a sigh, Emilia grasped Phoebe’s hands in hers. “I shall miss you terribly. Please do promise you will write.”

“I shall, as soon as I may.”

Emilia then impulsively embraced Phoebe. It was the first time she had ever done so, and Phoebe was warmed by this heartfelt gesture. She was engulfed in a floral scent that reminded her of lilies, except that it was also a bit familiar. Then Emilia stepped back and the scent was gone, and Phoebe couldn’t remember where she might have smelled it before.

In the carriage, she had time to reflect on her visit since Mr. Havner was taking a roundabout route back to Mrs. Haudenby’s house for her aunt’s safety and concealment. Ironically, it was a boon that Aunt Laura was forced to go into hiding because Phoebe’s father did not know where she was staying.

Would Phoebe need to remain in hiding for the rest of her life? She had no desire to live in fear of her father’s reprisal, but she should have known as soon as she defied him that a situation like this might arise. She despised this feeling of being at the whim of her father’s actions, of feeling she had no control over her own life.

But she also knew that her anger was harming her, like a disease slowly eating away at her health and happiness. She could not let it distract her again from protecting her aunt and being there to support her as she had always supported Phoebe. She had been careless before. She would not make the same mistake again.

She was certain that her steely determination could best her father’s efforts and that he would eventually give up—if she had inherited anything from him, it was his stubbornness. Until then, she need only be cautious and follow Uncle Sol’s injunctions, doing a proper job for the Ramparts after he had risked so much to vouch for her and Keriah. Now that they were becoming full agents, she would obey his orders—and he had ordered her to grow the Goldensuit, so that was what she would do.

Maybe it would somehow save Mr. Coulton-Jones’s life.

Chapter Three (part 1)

Mr. Sol Drydale decided that he would rather fight superhumanly strong, raging mad Berserkers than try to make sense of the documents delivered by his cousin’s attorney.

He rubbed his forehead, trying to ease the headache firmly lodged there as he examined the papers on his desk in the library of his townhouse. He’d barely survived a three-hour-long meeting with a lawyer whose preferences ran to an over-fondness for onions, which was apparently what the man had eaten for lunch.

The documents detailed the estates and belongings of Sol’s first cousins, once removed, who were both now deceased. Their father should be reviewing this material, but Viscount Purcombe had taken to his bed after the death of his children and was now gravely ill himself, and as the next closest family, the task had fallen to Sol.

He had never wanted the title or lands, and now he was next in line to inherit both. Before the deaths of his cousin’s sons, his only ambition had been to purchase a small cottage, perhaps, when he no longer cared to live in London. His temperament didn’t run to the responsibility of managing a vast estate and tenant farmers, and he hadn’t sons of his own to run the other properties, which only added to the burdens upon him.

Sol was tempted to pour himself a glass of whiskey and be done with it all for the day. Because more than the management of the lands, there was also now the responsibilities of his blood.

He absolutely needed to remarry and try to beget an heir to carry on the family name. However, before his wife’s death, she had had so many miscarriages that he was no longer certain if he could beget children. And after being widowed for twelve years, he now must cast himself upon the turbulent waters of the Marriage Mart to find a bride. But there was no woman he desired to marry except …

Sol could not picture anyone else for him but Laura. They had always gotten along well together, possessing many interests in common so that they never ran out of topics of conversation. They were able to laugh with each other, knowing how to argue and how to reconcile, and often maintaining comfortable silences. He admired her mind and found her attractive. And after working closely with her on his team, his respect for her under-appreciated abilities had only grown.

When she had been in danger, he’d been beside himself with anxiety—he realized, belatedly, that he would be utterly devastated if he lost her. And when they rescued her, all his ardor poured out of him as he embraced her. She was alive and in his arms, and his heart was so full of joy that it had been almost painful.

But he was not certain Laura would even accept him if he did propose to her because of her strong viewpoints on religion. She had always made clear that her spirituality was important to her, and he could not see her agreeing to marry a man who did not share her devotion to her God, a man able to understand why she felt the way she did when she read her Bible and prayed.

They’d had many discussions and arguments about God. Despite their differing opinions, Sol enjoyed the stimulating conversation and appreciated her sound logic and clever way of thinking.

But he was also a man who felt most comfortable when he had firm control over his world. A devout belief in Providence made him feel unstable because it was not something he felt he could rely upon. His life was his own to shape. His own decisions and actions accomplished his goals, and he alone faced the consequences.

And a part of him also felt that while Laura had been desperate for a spiritual anchor to sustain her during her marriage to Wynwood, Sol himself had no need for a God to buoy him aloft. He was self-sufficient and satisfied with his situation.

Well, most of the time. He admitted he had felt untethered when Laura had been taken, and he had never been so terrified in his life, whether from fear over her safety or fear that he had lost control over the things and people in his life that he cared most about.

He sighed. Laura was safe now. There was no more need to dwell on his past tremors. Instead, he must tackle this problem of another wife.

Sol remembered, then, how Laura had heard the news about the deaths in his family, and with a groan, he reached for the whiskey decanter. Hang the fact it was only mid-afternoon—the pain in her eyes had nearly unmanned him when she informed him of how, while she was recuperating at Glencowe Castle, she’d heard about it from local gossip and the newspaper.

He should have told her himself, but the news came to him after she’d been kidnapped—in fact, right in the midst of his investigation to try to find her. After her rescue, he hadn’t been certain how to broach the subject. Since he’d had so many things to do for the Ramparts, he’d allowed himself to become caught up in the happenings around that time, doing his best to distract himself from that demmed letter from the attorney sitting in the drawer of this very desk.

When Laura confronted him about it, she hadn’t condemned him for not telling her. Instead, she’d expressed her condolences over the deaths of his cousin’s sons and had even been supportive of him in his new position as heir apparent.

But there had also been a hint of sorrow in her manner, which Sol had expected. It was not unreasonable for her to have thought that, since they were such close friends, she would have heard of it from himself rather than a stranger.

Sol stared morosely at his tumbler of whiskey. Of all the women he’d met—even more than his deceased wife—he wanted Laura. She never looked at him with speculation or avarice like other matrimonial-minded women in town, instead treating him with respect and a casualness of manner that set his mind at ease. He wanted to invade that invisible boundary around her person, to draw near enough to smell the light fragrance of her perfume, which put him in mind of going berry picking in a cool, soothing forest. He wanted her to become aware of him as a man, to allow him the right to touch her and draw her close and shield her from the troubles of the world.

He tossed back the entire glass of spirits. There was hardly any likelihood of that happening. Laura’s demeanor, even after knowing each other for years, clearly indicated that she was not interested in marrying him or anyone.

And why should she? She had no financial need to marry. Wynwood had left her quite well off, and there would be no benefit for her to put her fortune and her body at the mercy of another man who could legally control her and injure her as her deceased husband had done. Sol would not do that to her, but he knew how she valued the freedom she had gained from the monster she had married, and she would not easily give that up.

And that monster had taken something infinitely precious from her, the one horrific theft that broke her heart in two even as her body had broken under his fists and feet. She had never spoken of it to Sol, but he heard about the covered-up incident, and he’d known confidential things about her condition beforehand that made him sure he knew what had happened to her.

And because Laura had never given Wynwood a child, not in ten years of marriage, she was ineligible as Sol’s potential bride.

The knock at the library door made him stare at his empty glass in dismay before calling, “Come.”

The butler entered. “I beg your pardon for disturbing you, sir, but Mr. Kyleston has arrived. He has asked to speak with you about a matter involving his uncle’s shipping interests.” 

Of course the Ramparts would seek him out on one of the few days when he was not scheduled to visit the building. He swallowed a sigh. “Show him in, Halford.”

Mr. Kyleston looked much younger than his actual age, which was close to that of Mr. Coulton-Jones and Septimus, but his gangly frame and the mop of straight brown hair that looked as though it were in desperate need of a comb gave him the manner of an awkward teenager. However, behind his spectacles—thinner than those he wore within the Ramparts, but not as corrective to his eyesight—were intelligent brown eyes that met Sol’s with both respect and confidence.

“I apologize, sir, but I must ask you to come with me on a matter of some urgency.” In order to keep his business a secret from the butler, he always referred to his “uncle’s shipping interests” when he had a particularly important summons from Sir Derrick.

“Urgent, is it?” Sol set aside the empty tumbler and stood. “I suppose it cannot be helped.”

Being Sir Derrick’s clerk, Mr. Kyleston was usually privy to the reasons for Sol’s summons, which was why he unbent his manner and leaned closer, a contrite look upon his face. “Sir, I’d suggest you take another glass of that for ‘medicinal purposes’ before we leave.”

Sol stared at him a moment before pouring another finger for himself, and one for Mr. Kyleston. “That bad, eh?”

Mr. Kyleston picked up his glass. “Yes, sir, that bad.”

Copyright © 2023 Camy Tang

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